The Cockerel Has Crowed

It was always going to happen. No human can consume 70 Nando’s meals a year and come out unscathed.

Last Friday night, was the day I finally ‘turned’ on Nando’s.

Our weekly visit to Nando’s had started off well. Upon entry, usual protocol was followed: husband went to order meals (butterfly chicken medium for me/ half chicken medium for him, spicy rice, peri-peri chips and a side of halloumi, natch), while I collected cutlery, napkins and sauces (backroom Brenda).

The husband is also in-charge of the Nando’s loyalty card. We’ve earned about 10 red chillies now – the kind of top-level points that only come with a serious peri-peri habit.

For some reason though, the husband refuses to cash any of these loyalty points against a free meal. He likes to see the look of shock on the cashier’s face when he hands over the card. He wants the cashier to think ‘this guy is a serious player’.

The husband, on the other hand, claims his refusal to cash in his chillies is because he sees the Nando’s loyalty card as in insurance policy should we feel on hard times. If we go bankrupt, we can still treat ourselves for a meal out once a month for the lion’s share of a year. Also, he’s of the foolish opinion that accruing an abundance of chillies makes him one step closer to the coveted Nando’s Black Card. Dream on!

But when my butterfly chicken breast arrived, there was something horribly wrong with it. It was all pale, blubbery and seemed to be oozing copious amounts of water.

The waitress said she would get me another one. There was a long wait and when the new piece of chicken arrived it was even worse than the original one: this time, along with the blubbery wateryness, it was peppered with pink veins.

I was dealing with a bad batch of breasts! It was the fast food equivalent of the PIP scandal.

I went to get the manager and explain the problem. I wanted him to take me seriously so I took my Nando’s card with me.

‘I eat at least one butterfly chicken breast every week of the year,’ I said, proffering the loyalty card. ‘I know a bad breast when I see one. You only have to check our loyalty card to see how often we come here.’

The manager looked slightly out of his depth. Five minutes later, he returned with a chicken wrap.

‘I’m really sorry about that,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what was going on there. I’ve temped a few and I’ve binned a few, just to be sure.’

I was so busy hungrily tucking into my chicken wrap, I didn’t really catch what he said.

‘I think he said, ‘I’ve temped a few and binned a few?!” repeated the husband.

‘Which is a really weird thing to say. Why would he pop in the back and select a few breasts to randomly bin?!’

‘Surely if he’s going to bin them, he should bin the whole lot,’ I mused. ‘And what on earth is temping?’

I finished my wrap. Images of the blubbery chicken were still playing in my mind. I mouthed at the husband, ‘I think I’ve turned’.

It was only after that I wished I had taken photographic evidence of the blubbery, veiny breasts. Instead, you’ll have to make do with me clutching a bottle of peri-peri sauce and looking suitably doleful.

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‘I want to get out of here with the minimum fuss,’ I whispered. ‘Where’s the manager? I want to slip out without any more rigmarole.’

‘He’s nowhere to be seen,’ said the husband, glancing around. ‘He’s probably in the back, booting bad breasts’.

I’d half expected to see the manager pinning a sign up at the window saying ‘Sorry, no butterfly chicken here tonight’.

‘I doubt I’ll be darkening the doors of Nando’s EVER AGAIN,’ I said, dramatically.

The husband eyed me sceptically.

‘That’s a shame,’ he said. ‘Because we’ve now collected enough loyalty points for about 20 free meals.’

The Half-Job Husband

The husband arrived home from work the other night. He walked through the front door and left it half open; he kicked off his shoes and left them in the middle of the hallway; he flung his damp gym towel over the nearest door to dry it but left it still folded up.

Welcome to the world of Half-Job Harry.

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Half-Job Harry is the moniker I gave to the husband for never doing a full job on anything. I’m not sure whether other people have this problem with their partners but it drives me bananas.

Half-Job Harry does do jobs but he doesn’t do them thoroughly. He might, for instance, reluctantly change a lightbulb (a weekly occurrence in our apartment – what is it with these spotlights?!)

But once done, he will leave the old lightbulb on the side, the chair he used to climb in the middle of the room, and the plastic packaging from the new bulb strewn somewhere on the floor – while happily reclining back on the sofa, satisfied that he’s achieved a spot of entry-level DIY and his work is done.

Last month, after more persistent hen-pecking, the husband reluctantly sloped off to put some oil and screen wash in the car. He was gone for some time and he returned empty-handed.

It was only when I opened the car boot this week, that I found a big plastic box swimming with greasy oil and screen wash from where he hadn’t secured the bottles properly.

Half-Job Harry is usurped only by Put-Off Pete. Put-Off Pete likes to leave smelly bin bags by the front door because he will ‘take it in the morning’; he leaves paperwork to pile up on the kitchen worktop – because he will ‘deal with it next week’; and he leaves ironing on the side because he will ‘put it away tomorrow’.

Put-Off Pete came into play the other night when I asked the husband if he could nip down to the basement to quickly read the electricity meter.

‘I’ll do it at some point over the weekend,’ said Put-Off Pete.

‘At some point over the weekend?’ I cried. ‘It’s only Wednesday night. It will only take two minutes!’

‘If it only takes two minutes, you can go,’ said the husband.

‘You know I don’t like to go down there for fear of What Lies Beneath,’ I said.

What Lies Beneath is the name we gave to the eerie void underneath our apartments, which also houses the electricity meters – and probably several hundred super-rats.

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For three years, we were oblivious to What Lies Beneath until we went on a mini adventure to sabotage SuDick’s carpet tiles (SuDick are our bothersome neighbours (details here) who insisted on laying carpet throughout the communal corridors. As part of our anti-carpet campaign, the husband and I decided to start stealing the stash of carpet tiles from the basement at the rate of one by one. We then frisby them off our balcony and into the valley below. This little game has become a lot of fun).

I think it’s fair to say that the husband does not like doing DIY. We were having a picnic in the garden of The House We Might Never Actually Live In the other weekend (we occasionally eat a Sainsbury’s £3 meal deal there – it’s the only picnic we can afford, given that the garden is costing a third of my monthly salary to upkeep), when the husband spotted a tree that had blown down in the wind.

If you look closely, you can see it perpendicular to the green conifer. I’m not quite sure what one does in the event of a felled tree – dial a tree surgeon?

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The husband went for a closer inspection of said tree and started rambling about climbing up the wobbly-looking conifer next to it and CHAIN-SAWING it down.

For someone renowned for his inability to use a radiator bleeding key and who once had a particularly close shave with a circular drill that nearly took his eyebrows off, the idea of the husband willingly going anywhere near a chainsaw is a very frightening prospect indeed.

Luckily, Put-Off Pete soon jerked back into action.

The fallen tree’s been there for a couple of months now and thankfully the husband hasn’t mentioned it since.

His damp towel is still festering in his gym bag; there’s a pile of unread letters on the kitchen side; and the car’s been demanding more screen wash for at least a month now.

Basically, it’s business as usual.

Damned Designs

The husband and I have bought a house. It’s very pretty. I wish I could get a bit more excited about this new step towards Becoming A Proper Adult but there’s one big sticking point to it all.

When we bought the house, we rather rashly assumed it wouldn’t be a problem to renovate and extend it quite a bit.

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Our new domicile had already been extended by the previous owners without any problems; there was no neighbours to speak off, except a few octogenarian bowlers; it wasn’t overlooked at all. We were planning on replacing the strange blue conservatory. Basically, our Kevin McCloud extension wouldn’t hurt anyone.

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Unfortunately the council don’t share this view.

It all boils down to an over-zealous planning officer called Laura Hogg who has left no stone unturned in her quest to quash our plans and basically ruin our lives.

After rummaging through the planning archives in a dark council basement somewhere, she triumphantly claimed that our house is in a previously undistinguishable ‘green belt’ area of suburbia, and, as it has already been extended by the national law of 30 per cent volume since 1948, we are not to extend it by a single brick more.

This means: no two-storey side extension, no double garage, no all-glass kitchen diner at the back, no master bedroom overlooking the garden, and certainly no indulgent (but entirely necessary in the husband’s eyes) basement ‘media room’.

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This news came as a very heavy hit.

Our future abode currently stands empty and dejected, a bit like its owners. Once a fortnight, I drive past it – simply to check it’s still there.

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Occasionally, we wander wistfully around the garden and sometimes have a picnic. We have a new hedgehog friend too. He only has three legs.

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Sometimes, I wonder if the husband and I will end up like my parents’ friends Pete and Enid, who bought a new house up the road from them and despite happily decorating it and pottering in the garden every weekend, have NEVER MOVED IN. This might not be quite so alarming, if they hadn’t bought the house 25 years ago.

My mother cycled past and spotted Enid in the garden the other week. ‘Will you be moving in soon?’ she cautiously enquired.

‘Moving in?!’ shrieked Enid, wild-eyed and terrified. ‘It’s nowhere near ready!’

The news from the council has left us with three options:

1. Find out where our nemesis Laura Hogg lives and knock on the door with a brown envelope stuffed full of grubby bank notes. If she refuses to accept this bribe, let down her car tyres in the dead of night.

2. Carry on living happily in our apartment, aka The Holiday Home, and do a ‘Pete and Enid’.

3. As Laura Hogg has now moved department, pretend the whole saga never happened and resubmit a scaled down version of the plans – with the insane notion that a different sympathetic councillor may give them the rubber stamp.

We decided to go for the resubmit plans/ bury-head-in-sand approach. According to our architect, crazier things have happened.

Last week, were given a new case officer: Peter Grant. I spoke to him on the phone. He has a very dry sense of humour and seemed quite positive.

‘Peter Grant has a humorous, ‘can-do’ attitude,’ I thought. ‘I’m all about ‘can-do’ attitudes. Maybe Peter Grant will be our saviour?’

I arranged to meet him at his office. I woke early that morning with all the anticipation of a first date. I needed to woo Peter Grant.

‘Whatever you do, don’t go for the brassy barmaid look,’ said the husband.

‘Have you ever know me dress like a brassy barmaid?’ I said.

‘Good point,’ said the husband.

Still, I couldn’t decide what to wear. I wanted to channel a mixture of innocent school teacher/ naive housewife/ simpering girl-next-door. It wasn’t an easy look to pull off.

In the end, I plumped for black leggings and a bright orange jacket, (avoiding the colour green at all costs).

Peter Grant finally appeared in the lobby.

He was younger than I’d imagined, casually dressed, with intense dark eyes and a brisk manner.

‘Sorry about that,’ he said, gesturing to the seat opposite him. ‘I’ve been embroiled in a series of office-based escapades.

Embroiled? Escapades?! I loved this man.

I wanted to yell, ‘I’m a WORDSMITH too!’

But instead I concentrated on the task in hand: hypnotising Peter into granting us full planning permission.

‘So what was the problem with the original plans?’ asked Peter, spreading the drawings on the table in front of him.

‘I think it was just the sheer size of it,’ I said, adopting an innocent tone and taking care not to mention the words ‘green belt’, ’30 per cent’, or ‘Laura-bloody-Hogg’.

‘Well, I can’t see any problem with this rear extension,’ said Peter.

‘We’re all about enhancement here and l like to impart good news on a sunny Friday morning,’ he added.

I did an inward whoop.

‘Great,’ I squeaked, thinking, ‘just kept smiling, maintain eye contact, and whatever you do SAY NO MORE’.

‘I’ll get the architect to re-submit the revised plans next week.’ I added.

One of two things is now going to happen: Peter Grant grants us full planning permission and gives our case no further thought. Peter Grant bumps into Laura Hogg at the water cooler, happens to mention the name of our house, and gets the full lowdown from Miss Planning Enforcer herself.

In which case, my only option would then be to start an affair with Peter Grant.

I updated the husband over dinner that evening.

‘It’s gone well up to now but just how far do you want me to take this? I said.

‘I might even have to SLEEP WITH PETER GRANT!’

‘You will have to do what’s necessary,’ said the husband.

‘But let’s face it, you’re no Demi Moore.’

Running On Empty

At 6.45am this morning the alarm goes off and the husband springs out of bed. No-one should have to rise at such an ungodly hour on a Sunday. But today the husband is running the Manchester 10k.

All weekend, the husband has barely even mentioned this race. But this morning, things are different. There’s a palpable tension in the air. He is stomping around, hunting for safety pins, Googling ‘what to eat before a big race’ – and even muttering about protein shakes.

‘I want you ready by 7.45am,’ he bellows in his best Drill Sergeant voice.

I’m a little taken aback by this sudden change of heart.

The reason the race has not been such a big deal up to now is that the husband went for a run about two weeks ago and managed to pull his calf muscle so badly he could barely walk.

This might be something to do with the fact that he sprang out of bed that morning, laced up his trainers and simply set off running – without so much as a sniff of a warm-up. Naturally, he refuses to concede that this is the reason for his calf injury. Real men don’t bother with pre-run stretches or warm-ups, says he.

Because of this injury, the husband had pretty much resigned himself to hobbling around the Manchester 10k today. There was talk of him pulling out altogether but he bravely said he would soldier on – limping around the course if necessary.

After much conflab at home, we finally set off for Manchester. The husband’s hands seem to be gripping the steering wheel tighter than normal. He appears pensive – and tense.

‘You seem to be taking this very seriously,’ I say. ‘Don’t forget you’re only jogging round, due to your injury. There really is nothing to be getting worked up about.’

‘I need to stock up on supplies,’ says the husband, suddenly swooping into the petrol station. ‘Energy drinks, ibruprofen, Pro-Plus…’

This doesn’t sound like someone who is merely partaking in a glorified fun run, I think.

Halfway into the car journey, the penny suddenly drops.

‘You’re not just planning on jogging round, are you?’ I say.

‘The workmates are taking it really seriously,’ wails the husband. ‘They’ve have been training for weeks. I just REALLY want to beat them!’

‘You’re injured and you haven’t done any training,’ I said. ‘You can’t possible compete with these people.’

‘If my calf can hold out, I think I’m in with a chance,’ grimaced the husband.

‘Last time, I did it in 42 minutes.’

‘That was five years ago,’ I said, ever the Voice of Doom. ‘And you were in the peak of physical fitness. You’ve barely run 10k this year and you’re limping like Keyser Soze.

‘I know what’s going on here,’ I continued, finding my stride. ‘You’re picturing a scenario where you rise like the phoenix from the flames – and sail past the workmates in a superman fashion, taking them all by surprise.’

The husband nods, looking sheepish.

‘It’s never going to happen,’ I say.

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The husband meets up with the work mates at the starting line. They all seem very keen, talking of personal bests and training schedules.

I leave him limbering up and stretching out his weakened calves.

40 minutes and two coffees later, I decide to amble down to the finishing line to check out what’s going on. It was 42 minutes into the race and the elite athletes were beginning to filter through.

I was in no rush. In fact, I was busy picturing a scenario whereby I was one of the few spectators left, clapping in solitude, as the injured husband woefully limps at the rear – surrounded by people in wheelchairs and a man dressed as Big Bird. 

But just as I look up, the husband flies past! He looks in pain but is gritting his teeth in determination.

He beat rival workmate by 10 seconds; the rest by significantly more.

He came in the top 10 per cent of the runners.

He might have done irreparable damage to his left calf.

But the husband has never looked happier. And secretly, I’m a very proud wife.

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The Duke of Wellington

Thought Hunters were the daddies of the welly world? Me too.

But allow me to introduce you to Aigle: the king of rubber footwear.

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These bad-ass boots, handcrafted in France, turn everything you thought you knew about wellingtons (rubbery and er, green) on its head. I first heard whisperings about them in the last year or two (although they’ve been around since 1853).

But it wasn’t until the husband entered the market for a pair of new wellies this winter, that I knew there was only one brand I was going to turn too.

(Quick ‘foot’note here: Aigle are arguably usurped by French brand Le Chameau – the absolute crème de la crème for those in the know. But at £200+ a pop, you have to basically be Prince Charles to own a pair.)

Naturally, procuring a pair of Aigles wasn’t as straightforward as simply popping down to the local shoe shop (is it ever?). I won’t go into details but let’s just say it involved much internet research and a train ride to London. Excessive, I know.

I finally settled on a pair of Aigle’s ISO Parcours 2. With their neoprene surface, special ankle-hugging contours and anti-fatigue insulation, these water-repellant bad boys laugh in the face of puddles and sneer at cold toes.

The husband was a little sceptical about his new wellies at first. Like the electric toothbrush, I had to convince him that these really were WELLIES FOR LIFE.

But as soon as he’d paced around the lounge a few times, he deemed them incredibly comfortable and very warm (in fact there’s even been internet rumours of them being TOO warm. First world problem alert).

Today’s walk from Addingham to Ilkley was the perfect day to try them out: the first sunny day after two months of torrential rain.

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If you’ve never been to Ilkley, I urge you to get in your car and head there immediately. It’s an attractive market town nestled in the Yorkshire Dales. There’s a Betty’s tea room, independent book shops and an air of English finery about the place. It’s little wonder that is was recently dubbed the happiest place to live in the UK.

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We sat and ate a M&S sandwich on a bench outside Betty’s (the only downside to donning wellies for a muddy walk is that they don’t quite cut the mustard in posh tea rooms). Still, we love park benches (and there wasn’t a Pizza Hut pizza in sight!).

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If there’s one criticism, Ilkley is trifle twee and a bit middle class. Heck, even the buskers appear to be straight out of the local grammar school.

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Addingham is Ilkley’s little sister further up the River Wharfe: all bubbling brooks, cutesy cottages and waddling ducks.

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The village is also home to the husband’s favourite-ever house: a Georgian beast of beauty that he believes he will one day retire to.

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Anyway, before I digress into one of those smug ‘lifestyle’ blogs rambling on about bracing country walks and Gywnnie-style organic juices, let’s get back to the boots.

The husband bloomin loved them. He sloshed through sludgy mud, sploshed in bulging becks, and splashed in over-sized puddles.

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As more and more walkers passed us in their hoi-polloi Hunters (moi included), he felt like the Duke of Wellington.

And then the inevitable happened.

Striding towards him – looking every inch the country squire in his flat cap and black Labrador trotting obediently at his heels – was a man, wearing… an identical pair of brown Aigle boots.

As he passed, the husband locked eyes competitively. They exchanged a knowing look.

‘He has your boots on!’ I whispered.

‘I know,’ said the husband. ‘And he knew that I knew he had!’

‘But did he know that you knew that he knew that you knew?’ I said.

‘That makes no sense whatsoever,’ said the husband.

Back in Addingham, the duke lingered longingly over the gate of his favourite house.

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He might be the duke of wellingtons…

But he wasn’t quite the lord of Addingham.

La Dolce Vita

It’s Friday night and the husband arrives home from work.

‘Are we going to the Thai?’ he says.

The local Thai has become a Friday night fixture. We go so often now that the woman who runs it has begun to giggle inanely when we set foot in the door. She foists free mango sorbet upon us, and throws in the occasional basket of complimentary prawn crackers. We’ve taken to bowing to her with our hands clasped as we leave.

‘We could go for a civilised meal at the Thai,’ I said.

‘Or… we could roam down to our local grubby Pizza Hut, snap up a £5 pizza each on their ‘Special 5′ deal, and eat it on a park bench.’

‘Pizza on a park bench!’ says hubby.

We’ve developed a new hobby of eating pizzas on park benches, walls – and even one of those yellow grit bins at the end of the road. It’s a lot of fun. Go and try it. There’s something reassuringly back to basics about shivering on street corners, chomping your way through a pizza that you’ve managed to procure for a mere fiver.

If it takes off, it could even be developed as some form of middle-class therapy: kind of reconnecting with your youth. And I suppose you could go the whole hog and wash it down with a bottle of Diamond White while you’re at it.

After a couple of drinks at the bar up the road (the giant dog was in situ again. It was Friday night after all; he’s almost a regular now), we wandered down to Pizza Hut to collect our pepperoni feasts.

We were greeted by a portly man of dubious hygiene, who grunted and then disappeared into the back to forage for our pizzas. He looked like Mr Twit.

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Our local Pizza Hut is basically a shed attached to the end of a row of shops, largely staffed by scruffy-looking students. It looks absolutely filthy and is probably over-run with rodents gnawing on left-over pizza crusts in the backyard. But when the pizzas only cost £5, you shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you.

We wandered up the road, sat on a yellow grit bin and started working our way through the two medium-sized feasts.

‘I think I’m going to have half here and then half back at home,’ I said.

‘It’s an interesting strategy,’ said the husband. ‘My only fear is that it will be too cold by the time you get home.’

‘Not if you close the lid in between each slice and contain the warmth,’ I said.

As we greedily chomped away, two police officers came strolling towards us.

‘Evening, officer,’ said the husband, in a terribly British voice.

‘Evening, officer,’ I chirped.

The policeman and policewoman didn’t return our greeting, choosing to stare at us curiously instead.

I don’t know what is about encountering a couple of bobbies on the beat that turns one into an extra from Midsomer Murders. When I see a police officer, I immediately transform into a blustering buffoon, convinced that I’ve got something to hide.

As the police officers eyed us suspiciously, I had to fight the urge to say, ‘There’s nothing to see here officers: just me and my double pepperoni pizza. We don’t want any trouble!’

The police officers moved on and we ambled home.

‘Did you know that Philip Seymour Hoffman was found with 70 bags of heroin in his apartment? 70 bags! ‘ mused the husband.

‘It’s very sad,’ I said.

‘I think he might have been my favourite actor in the last 20 years,’ added the husband.

‘Really?!’ I said. ‘In all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never heard you so much as utter the words Phillip Seymour Hoffman, let alone proclaim he’s your favourite-ever actor!’

‘If was found dead in an apartment, I’d probably be surrounded by 50 empty boxes of double pepperoni pizza,’ said the husband, sadly.

Back at the ranch, the husband chewed thoughtfully.

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‘Do you think that Pizza Hut tell people about the ‘Special 5′ deal or do you think they allow people to just stumble in and blindly order a medium-sized pizza for £9.95, knowing that they could get it for £5?’ pondered the husband.

‘I’ve no idea,’ I said. ‘But next Friday, let’s give it a go. We’ll go in pretending we don’t know about the deal and see what happens. And if hairy man keeps us in the dark about the deal, we’ll reveal all.’

‘Next Friday is Valentine’s Day,’ said the husband.

‘Even better!’ I said.

The Husband… and The Puff

What is this object?

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Yep, it’s one of those white fluffy things that you use to lather shower gel around your body.

The problem is that no one really knows what to call it. To the husband it is quite simply a ‘shower puff’. I’ve always called it a puff too. But I’m not sure what its official title is. I’ve heard it labelled a variety of things: shower scrunchie, body polisher, even a shower flower.

I once saw a besuited man in Boots attempting to explain to the shop assistant what he was looking for.

‘It’s a white fluffy shower… thing,’ he was saying, whilst doing a circular scrubbing motion with his hands.

‘A puff?’ I helpfully chipped in.

‘That’s it!’ he cried.

Anyone who doesn’t use a shower puff for everyday cleansing really is missing a trick. I mean how else do you get up the kind of lather that a puff can provide?

We have a variety of puffs in our house, including a large pink puff, which I acquired from Soap and Glory. It’s huge, and bills itself as the ‘best latherer in town’. I even bought my mother-in-law one for Christmas (turns out she loves puffs too!).

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For day-to-day showering, we plump for a simple white Boots puff (one each, of course – I’m not sure on the etiquette of a shared puff). Boots provide the best puffs; those puffs purchased from Superdrug et al. have proved feeble, and begin to unravel when faced with a vigorous scour.

The husband went on a business trip to Latvia the other week (where he got trapped in the a toilet cubicle on his way to a business meeting and had to wait half an hour for the hotel maintenance team to remove the hinges off the door. During this lavatory-based debacle, the meek Saudi man, who the husband was supposed to be meeting, was waiting on the other side of the door to greet him, arms outstretched… But that’s another story).

Being the loving wife that I am, I often leave the husband a range of silly notes when he goes away – sometimes in a pocket; sometimes in a shoe. More often than not, he doesn’t even notice them. I once popped one in his packed lunch and he accidentally ate it.

For the Latvian trip, I popped a note in with his ‘travel puff’ (travel puff lives in a clear white plastic zip up bag; he’s a slightly smaller version of your standard puff).

The note simply said, ‘Puff Daddy’. (Yep, you can see how much fun we have in our house!)

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Upon arrival, the husband – being the most unobservant man on this planet – removed trusty travel puff from his suitcase and was happily scrubbing away in the shower, whilst unbeknown to him my ‘Puff Daddy’ note had somehow ended up lying on the floor of the shower cubicle unnoticed.

This would have been fine, had the husband not been sharing a room with his work colleague.

Said work colleague then entered the bathroom – and staring back at him on the floor was a bright orange Post-It note that simply said ‘Puff’ (the ‘Daddy’ part being unfortunately folded underneath).

The husband isn’t sure whether or not he actually spotted the offending note.

But I like to imagine the work colleague spending his shower in complete and utter confusion, possibly muttering, ‘PUFF??’ to himself several times, as he lathered away.

The Husband…. and the Euromillions Scam

The husband left a receipt on the passenger seat of the car.

I idly glanced at it. It was a receipt from the local petrol station and said ‘Euromillions £2.00’.

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To my knowledge, the husband has never bought a Euromillions ticket in his life, let alone at 7.12am on a Friday morning.

In fact, the man I thought was my husband wouldn’t do that.

I sat and stared at the receipt for a while and thought, ‘My husband is a stranger to me.’

Entering the house, I immediately pounced on the husband.

‘What did you buy from the petrol station at 7.12am on Friday morning?’ I said clutching the receipt to my chest and sounding like Miss Marple, uncovering her spouse’s secret gambling habit.

‘A coffee?’ said the husband.

I showed him the receipt. We both stared in at it in bemusement.

‘I bought a £2.00 coffee from the machine,’ said the husband. ‘I’ve never bought a Euromillions ticket in my life!’

We pondered this for a few moments.

‘I know what’s happened,’ said the husband. ‘You know that nice Asian man at the petrol station. Well, he’s clearly putting coffees through as Euromillions tickets – and then claiming the ticket for himself. It’s the perfect scam!’

‘He wouldn’t!’ I said, aghast. ‘He’s such a nice man.’

‘He’s a true gent,’ agreed the husband, ‘true gent’ being his catch-all expression for any kind and chivalrous stranger. ‘He’s always so nice to old women too.’

‘I bet he’s nice to old ladies,’ I said, grimly. ‘He’s probably waiting for his moment to PLUNDER their building society accounts.’

‘He probably chose me as a victim because he knows I’m so gormless,’ said the husband, sadly. I didn’t disagree.

Later, the husband announced: ‘Actually, I hope the nice Asian man does win the Euromillions.’

‘But not through illegal means!’ I cried. ‘If you spot him driving past in a Ferrari next week, you’ll know he’s won – but technically that’s someone else’s money. He’s a professional conman!’

‘I’m going to get to the bottom of this,’ said the husband, fishing £2 out of the loose change bowl and scooping up his car keys.

He roared off in the direction of the petrol station.

My Cleaner… Won’t Stop Buying Me Presents

No-one likes to admit to having a cleaner.

It’s basically tantamount to announcing, ‘I’m far too important to wash and iron my own knickers. I have MINIONS who do that for me.’

But there’s no better feeling of landing back home from work to a freshly-polished floor, the ironing hanging in the wardrobe, and crisp new sheets on the bed. If I had to choose between getting rid of the cleaner or the husband, it would be a tough call.

I first came across my amazing cleaner Natalia when she advertised in the window of my local hardware store. In fact, the very same window that Dirty Harry has been looking for love. But, unlike Harry, after one visit from Natalia , it was love at first sight.

Natalia isn’t your average cleaner: she sews on buttons, mends the bedding, takes items to the dry cleaners, and runs any errands you need. She’s the most hard-working person I know.

During my Farrow and Ball decorating obsession, her husband offered to come round and help paint with his Polish friend. They only came round to weigh the job up but before you could say ‘Czesc’ (I think that’s hello in Polish) they had whipped off their shirts, grabbed a brush and started furiously painting.

There was none of this messing around with cups of tea every 30 mins, like the Brits. No, they just brought a giant bottle of Coke (Polish equivalent) to swig on the move, and worked for 12 hours flat, without even a break.

There is one small problem with Natalia (and I appreciate this is a horribly middle-class problem, in the face of world poverty and civil war) but the thing is… she keeps buying me presents.

It started last Christmas. I was busy trying to decide whether Natalia would like an actual present or would rather have an extra week’s pay, when she pitched up at the door bearing a selection of random gifts herself.

I was confused. Shouldn’t I be buying her a present – not the other way round?

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Her first present was some strange marshmallow/ Turkish delight-style sweets along with a bottle of dessert wine, which claimed to be Polish but on further inspection was actually made in Morocco.

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She also bought me an intriguing bottle of oil called ‘Sahar’, which she told me to slather all over my body after a bath. It smells of mouldy hazelnuts and every now and then I tip a bit in the bath, mainly out of guilt. For all I know, it could be the elixir of youth.

At Easter, a giant basket arrived for me, complete with daffodils, big fluffy chicks, creme eggs, and a ‘Happy Easter’ balloon.

It’s all incredibly sweet – but entirely unnecessary.

After her holiday, more bizarre presents arrived:  some chocolates that I think are Poland’s equivalent of minstrels, and a little wooden box with two ramming deer. You can make them lock horns by moving the wooden lever up and down.

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I keep the box on my desk at work to put my pens in.  Every now and then, a naughty boy in my class passes by and rams the deer together several times.

I’m already wondering what strange array of gifts Natalia’s planning to bestow upon me next.

But, as she said herself, the magic of christmas never ends!

The Crack Cocaine of Fast Food

The husband and I have a guilty little eating obsession that we’ve been keeping quiet about for some time. Like most addictions, it crept up on us slowly – a brief visit here and there if we happened to be passing.

But the lure of Nando’s neon rooster soon became too much. Before we knew it, we were bombing down there every Sunday to ravenously stuff our jowls with spicy chicken, licking our greasy fingers feverishly, as peri peri sauce dribbled down our chins.

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In the unlikely event that you’ve never entered its dark doors, Nando’s is basically a fast food restaurant that specialises in Portuguese-style chicken, accompanied by bottles of peri peri sauce, which range from mild to extremely hot. One hit and you’re hooked.

Some people go to Nando’s for a date night; some for a fun night with friends. But we visit Nando’s purely to get our fix. There is no element of enjoyment involved; like true addicts, we’re only interested in getting in there, feeding the addiction and getting out as quickly as is humanly possible.

Having to wait for a table is our worst nightmare. But we’ve developed a method that works quite well: the husband joins the queue to order, while I await a table allocation. Once seated, I text the table number to the husband, usually with the parting message, ‘Do what you need to do’.

There’s no need to go through the motion of pretending to look at the menu. We both know exactly what we want. And the beauty of Nando’s is that there’s no waiter interaction involved; better still, because you’ve paid upfront you can get the hell out of there as soon as the gorge is over.

Sometimes we don’t even speak to each other as we hungrily tuck in, swamping our chicken in hot peri peri sauce and shovelling spicy rice down the hatch at a revolting speed. At the end of the feast, we both sit in subdued silence, clutching our stomachs and fighting a rising sense of self-loathing, swearing that this really will be the last time we visit this rotten establishment.

But, of course, the next week we’re back.

The lengths that we will go to sate our peri peri craving are quite extreme. We’ve been know to travel 20 miles out of our way just to sink our gnashers into a medium-spiced half chicken. We were once forced to get a Nando’s takeout and eat it in our car, in a darkened alleyway. With our bare hands.

At my lowest ebb, I once sat on my own in a Nando’s in London gluttonously feasting on a double chicken wrap. At midnight. After downloading an app called Find My Nearest Nando’s. It was sick.

The addiction took a brief hiatus after a bad incident with a bottle of peri peri sauce. Disembarking at Leeds train station after a weekend away, we dragged our suitcases through the city centre with only one destination in mind. We had arrived just before closing, where one of the waiters was busy unscrewing the tops of the sauces to clean them.

Unfortunately for the husband, I happened to pick up one of the loose-topped bottles, which slipped in my greasy hands and did a rather dramatic somersault through the air, simulataneously showering the husband head to toe in peri peri sauce.

The poor husband had to travel home covered in sticky sauce. His suitcase stunk of it for weeks after. We had about a month off after that – swearing that this Really Was The End and that we were through with that place Once And For All.

That was, until a little voice started whispering ‘peri peri chicken, peri peri chicken’ and the cycle of gluttony started all over again. Going cold turkey on the Nando’s rooster was never going to last.

The husband might say, ‘What do you fancy for dinner tonight? I was thinking a little bit of chicken, a little bit of rice…’

‘Hmm… a little bit of chicken and rice – with perhaps a… spicy sauce?’ I’d reply innocently.

‘What could be the harm in that?’